Oakville Zen Meditation

#110: Nature of existence is threefold by Sunil Kvotski.1JUN16.

Buddha found that the nature or feature of existence is characterized by the following three roots:

  1. Impermanence or Ongoing Change: Nothing persists, everything is transient.
  2. Suffering or Unhappiness/dissatisfaction caused by desire, anger and illusion also called ignorance.
  3. No-self or Insubstantiality: no living being is a permanent, independent, unique and separe self entity.  We are all interdependent and interrelated.

We talked about them many times already.

Not knowing these three roots or misunderstanding them is causing suffering or dissatisfaction.

To "see things as they really are" means seeing them consistently in the light of the three characteristics of existence: i.e. 1) Impermanence, 2) Suffering and 3) No-Self.

Ignorance of these three, or self-deception about them, is by itself, also a potent cause for suffering — by knitting, as it were, the net of false hopes, of unrealistic and harmful desires, of false ideologies, false values and aims of life, in which man is caught. Ignoring or distorting these three basic facts can only lead to frustration, disappointment, and despair.

Deep understanding of impermanence trains the mind to take life as it comes.

The five aggregates of all living beings:

The five aggregates are: material form, feelings, perception, volition (sometimes translated as mental formations), and sensory consciousness. Considering that the five aggregates continuously arise and cease within our moment-to-moment experience, the Buddha teaches that nothing among them is really "I" or "mine."

Quote from Buddha:

"The nature of existence that is from these five aggregates, monks, are impermanence; whatever is impermanent brings suffering or unsatisfactory; whatever is suffering brings no-self. What is without self, that is not mine, that I am not, that is not my self. Thus knowing these 3 elements should be seen as perfect wisdom since they define what reality is all about. Who is using this perfect wisdom sees reality as it. His mind is not grasping but detached from taint. He is liberated.”

Nothing lasts forever, not matter, not emotions nor sensations. All things are impermanent and knowing that everything is transient is also the source of suffering. Even if change appears to be pleasant, it is set up for suffering later as the pleasant condition is also impermanent.

Buddha had two prescriptions for us.

First, insight meditation into the three roots which characterize existence leads you to peace of mind.

Second, the suffering itself can be felt in the body and that too is impermanent.

In other words, the event itself will change and so would your reaction to it.

True understanding of this comes from meditation.


Definition: mental or emotional stability especially during difficult times.

Using simpler words, if nothing lasts (impermanence) why to be the victim of continuous ups and downs emotional swings instead of keeping a minimum of stability that is equanimity.

The last attribute of existence, no-self says that one who is suffering due to ignorance of impermanence is itself impermanent and in fact empty. No living being has a permanent, unique, independent and separate self entity.

We are always trying to bring permanency in everything. This is why the mind is in conflict. We believe that being ambivalent (equanimity) will lead to inaction causing itself more suffering.

Personally, I find unsatisfactory event is not the cause of suffering but my reaction to it is.

Many terrible things are happening around the world but they should not upset you. Only when they affect us directly they may cause suffering. Reaction of the body conditioned over millions of years is to view unhappiness and dissatisfaction as a threat against its well being. Meditation on the actual emotion even bodily sensation starts to point to impermanence of suffering.

Buddha doesn't teach that we treat such bad events as irrelevant but, rather, that our negative reactions to that event are triggered by our ignorance of reality that is impermanence.

Once you have internalized impermanence, you release the body and mind to find the most effective means to make amends. And jump into action without delay or depression.

Written by Sunil Kvotski. May 2016.

(With minor edits from Oakville Zen Meditation)